Cell fusion between mating type plus (mt+) and minus (mt-) gametes of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is analyzed structurally and subjected to experimental manipulation. Cell wall lysis, a necessary prelude to fusion, is shown to require flagellar agglutination between competent gametes; glutaraldehyde-fixed gametes ("corpses") of one mating type will elicit both agglutination and cell wall lysis in the opposite mating type, whereas nonagglutinating impotent (imp) mutant strains are without effect. The fusion process is mediated by a narrow fertilization tubule which extends from the mt+ gamete and establishes contact with the mt- gamete. Formation of the tubule requires the "activation" of a specialized mating structure associated with the ml+ cell membrane; activation causes microfilaments to polymerize from the mating structure into the growing fertilization tubule. Mating structure activation is shown to depend on gametic flagellar agglutination; isoagglutination mediated by the lectin concanavalin A has no effect. Gametes carrying the imp-l mt+ mutation are able to agglutinate but not fuse with mt- cells; the imp-l gametes are shown to have structurally defective mating structures that do not generate microfilaments in response to gametic agglutination.

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